About the Film
Director’s Statement (from the 2003 version)
STONE READER follows my quest to find a long out-of-print book The Stones of Summer and a forgotten writer, Dow Mossman. The novel is one of youth and rebellion, written from 1965-1971 when I was a teenager and rebellion was at the heart of the arts and the new consciousness of young Americans.
Although I was a passionate reader, I couldn’t get into the book back then. But when I came across it again in 1998, the pages of the old paperback literally coming unglued in my hands, I found myself as moved and as struck by its originality as I remember the reviewer to have been in 1972.
As soon as I finished it I hopped onto the internet to find the writer’s other books. There were none. Nor was there any trace of the writer, or even the publisher. Why no readers? Why no books? Did Mossman just stop writing? Was he even alive? I took time out from my other work and started filming what I found. Joined by cinematographer Joe Vandergast and then others who became intrigued by the quest, I looked for clues.
What began as a quest had now became an obsession. Months turned into seasons, seasons into years. I crisscrossed the country ruminating with others about books that have gone in and out of favor, about the future of reading, and about the fate of other ambitious first novels.
Robert Gottlieb, the editor of Catch-22, who ran Knopf for 20 years, told me how and why “fiction has changed” and speculated on problems Mossman may have encountered. Frank Conroy, head of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, who didn’t publish a second novel for nearly 20 years after Stop-Time, reflects “it may have been too late” for such a novel in 1972. Leslie Fiedler, critic and author of Love and Death in the American Novel, a book I clutched in my hand for months, reading it everywhere in college, even as The Stones of Summer lay forgotten on my apartment floor, told me he has been “fascinated by ‘one book’ writers for years.”
The more I learned, the more I realized the answers I had been seeking were buried in the novel. Using the book as a compass, I solved one mystery only to open the door to others. While some see Mossman’s silence as an abandonment of talent, others see it as part of a larger dilemma: the course American literature has taken over the last thirty years, the demise of the novel in the digital age, and, as reading wanes, the conversion of the book from reading object to collectible.
As I worked on the film I realized something I must have known all along—how books create lifelong bonds among their readers in a way few other experiences do.
I don’t recall the day of the week I picked up my constantly ringing phone and heard on the other end of the line, “it’s me.” It was Mark. Who else would start a call that way? Plus, his distinctive voice made him easy to identify. He launched into it. He had been working on this film and needed my help. What was the film about?
Mark explained the story to me nearly the same way Stone Reader opens. I was intrigued because it was the least cinematic subject I could imagine – reading, readers, and the connection between readers and writers. It seemed to me to be an impossible subject for a film.
My opinion changed after I watched what was then a many hours long assembly of scenes. Mark’s authorial voice was clear and the story so compelling I had forgotten how long I had been sitting there watching it – a long full day. It was like looking at one of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures where you can imagine what the finished statue will look like because the body within the marble appears to be struggling to break free. Michelangelo famously said he worked to liberate the forms imprisoned in the marble and that his job was simply to remove what was extraneous.
I signed on to the project and for the next 10 months we shaped what was then a sprawling epic about reading and more into what became Stone Reader. Then what?
For a filmmaker, there are three mountains to climb. The first one is to complete the film. After that the next one is to convince the people who control what audiences get to see that your film can attract an audience so they’ll make it possible for someone to see. The final mountain to climb is finding and reaching the audience. That was difficult in 2003 before social media and streaming existed. The community of readers is large but they are in tiny clusters spread thinly around.
We hope – this time – that everyone who loves to read will finally be able to see this heartfelt paean to what keeps us reading – the bond between us and the distinct voices who ignite our imaginations – and will also tell their friends.
The Key Players
Literary agent at Brandt & Brandt, whose firm has represented Theodore Dreiser, John Marquand, John Dos Passos, Carlos Fuentes, Scott Turow, Michael Cunningham and many other well-known writers
Head of the Iowa University Writers’ Workshop, and author of the groundbreaking book "Stop-Time," "Midair," and "Body and Soul"
Author of several novels and works of non-fiction, currently Professor at the University of Pittsburgh
Professor of Literature at Penn State and the author of six novels, most recently "The Fifth Season"
Former Editor-in-Chief of Simon & Schuster, where he edited Joseph Heller’s "Catch-22," and for 20 years the Editor-in-Chief at Knopf, where he edited the novels of Toni Morrison, among many other writers
Co-creator of the first Apple McIntosh computer, widely known software developer and innovator
Professor at the University of Florida, and author of many critical works on American Literature
Political image-maker whose first novel was published while the film was in production
Author of mystery novels and editor of many crime fiction compilations
Graphic artist, designer of the "The Godfather" book jacket, among other bestsellers
Foremost American literature critic, author of "Love and Death in the American Novel"
Poet and Vietnam veteran whose book about the war, "China Wind," was critically acclaimed
William Cotter Murray
Novelist and longtime professor at the Iowa Writers Workshop
The Original 2003 Trailer
The original theatrical trailer was created almost overnight for the Film Forum in New York, where Stone Reader was set to premiere. After its opening two-week engagement, the film moved from city to city across the U.S. Later, Stone Reader returned twice to New York including Saturday Matinees at the AMC Empire 25 on 42nd Street, hosted by well-known authors. The longest run in a single city was Dallas, where the film played for eight weeks to packed houses, thanks to a sensational review from a local television critic. Stone Reader was in theaters for 15 months and played in over 50 cities around the US.